Iolanda Coscarelli, Sustainability & Energy Consultant

How can we Achieve Sustainable Buildings in Italian Real Estate Without Compromising their Historic Character?

As the ideal holiday destination, Italy is famous for its impressive architectural landscape and historical buildings. The Italian real estate sector is increasingly prioritising sustainability in the development, refurbishment, and design of buildings, but assets are required to comply with ever more stringent environmental policies. This trend also raises questions on how a more sustainable real estate sector can be achieved, without compromising the appearance and character of historic buildings. 

The Italian real estate landscape is particularly unique as it is home to the largest number of UNESCO world heritage sites in the world.1 In Italy, the historic buildings heritage consists of approximately three million buildings, representing 25% of all buildings in Italy. When also taking into account parks and gardens, about 60% of the world’s cultural building heritage is located in Italy.

The difficulties in future proofing this Italian heritage are administrative and technical. Firstly, they are linked to current regulations, which are often stringent and restrictive. In fact, every building intervention must comply with a series of regulations and authorisations that can vary from city to city. Some projects may also require additional permits, while others may even be prohibited.

Secondly, historical buildings are of great cultural importance and renovation entails the risk of compromising their artistic and historical value. For this reason, any intervention must be carried out with extreme care and attention to preserve the integrity of the building.

How do historic buildings in Italy comply with regulations such as the Taxonomy Regulation and SFDR?

Historic buildings aiming to meet the standards of the EU Taxonomy or the SFDR often face significant difficulties. The criteria for a building to be considered ‘aligned’ are often stringent and do not consider the unique constraints of historical structures. Even if all possible improvement actions are implemented, certain EPC or PED classifications cannot be achieved for some historic buildings. This remains one of the biggest challenges.

What are the main challenges when it comes to historic buildings and compliance with such regulations?

– Documentation retrieval: Obtaining necessary historical records and documentation can be challenging, as these may be scattered or incomplete over time
– Balancing the conservation of existing elements to preserve their historical and cultural value while implementing modern improvements
– Overcoming the favourable opinions of local superintendencies
– The cost of compatible solutions
– The difficulty of field work: Conducting renovations in historic buildings can be technically complex and labour-intensive, requiring specialised skills and resources

What are the possible solutions? What innovative approaches or methodologies can be used?

Today, there are several technical solutions available that address the entire building-system. These innovative solutions for both the building envelope and internal systems are tailored on a case by case basis to meet the needs required for the renovation of each individual building. Some solutions can be: off-site solutions, special decorative elements made of insulating material that accurately reproduce façade decorations, emission systems created on site to be incorporated into the content, dry systems that can be easily adapted and modified over time. These buildings can be preserved through more frequent periodic maintenance by providing detailed maintenance plans for the user, the maintainer, and the technicians in charge of future interventions.

However, there are only a few solutions available to balance purely energy/maintenance needs and the need to preserve the asset. Currently, the only protocol dedicated to restoration is the GBC Historic Building. It was created to bring the sustainability criteria already known from the LEED standard into dialogue with all the knowledge related to the world of restoration. Longevity is moving in this direction to find different possible solutions, not only for certification protocols, but also for energy efficiency and to meet the requirements of the European Union regarding the new directive. These solutions should then be shared with local and other authorities.




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